Before the Scene

Before The Scene With James Madio

by AJ Buckley on July 8, 2015


James Madio is a veteran actor from the Bronx. His long career includes roles alongside Robin Williams in the Steven Spielberg classic Hook, as Pedro in Basketball Diaries and as Sergeant Frank J. Perconte in HBO’s seminal miniseries Band of Brothers.

What made you want to become an actor?

When we were younger, my father used to bust out the video camera and make us do these little funny skits with me and my sisters. He’d make me imitate Elvis or Michael Jackson and we would just have a good time. For family time, instead of watching TV, we’d just pull out the video camera. When I was thirteen, my father [knew of a] manager who represented kids. He said, “Hey, I’d like to bring my son down see what she thinks.” I went in and she had me read a Smucker’s commercial, who are always like, “Hey, I like Smucker’s jam and jelly because it makes me happy!” You’ve got to smile and look like a happy kid. I went in and did it totally like Bronx, New York style. I remember her telling me and my father, “Well, he’s very specific, I’m not so sure that he’s going to work as much as you’d like.” Then, about a month later, we got a call from her saying that I had an audition for a film called Hook that’s a Spielberg film. That was my first audition and I booked it. I just remember meeting Steven and that was it. That was my intro into the business: a lot of luck.

I don’t think any of the kids, or at least the Lost Boys, knew what we were getting into until you got to the set and saw how big it was. Never Never Land and the pirate ship. I just remember a lot of big A-list actors showing up with their kids just to see the set, like it was a theme park. It was pretty cool. It felt like you were at a theme park every day at work. You go get makeup, grab some cool little equipment, go skateboarding, play basketball, shoot darts and water guns and food fights. It was a lot of fun.

I also remember Hoffman talking to my father and saying, “Hey, do you mind if I introduce James to somebody?” My father said, “Yeah, sure, of course.” Hoffman introduced me to these two producers, Laura Ziskin and Joe Caracciolo. He told them, “Hey, I’d like this kid to play my son in my next movie.” And that was it. I went right to my second studio film. No audition. I got a nice intro into this industry.

What’s been your biggest fear?

My family and the future of my family. That’s my recent fear. I just got married three years ago and my baby’s two, so that’s the most recent fear. But before, to be honest, I really didn’t have any fear. I always looked ahead, I always had faith and I always thought that something would come my way and more breaks would happen. If I just kept my nose clean, kept my contacts and was very friendly with people, I’d continue to work. I’d like to tell you that my fear would be never to work again or failure, but I never was really afraid of that. Now with my wife and kid, the stakes are higher because I have to provide for family. To do that, I have to find longevity and stability within this career.

What was your lowest point?

After Basketball Diaries, I did very well in the indie market. That’s when festivals were first starting to come on to the scene. We were at Sundance for Basketball Diaries. After that, I started to take acting a little more seriously. I wanted to work more. This is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I made that decision at nineteen and with it came a lot of rejection. I thought I was going to work a lot more and I thought my career was going to take this shift, and it didn’t. It actually went the other way. I just remember not having representation shortly after that movie and not auditioning. Just hanging out with friends, drinking in the park and doing an odd job. It was one of the first and pretty much only “regular” job that I’ve ever taken. I did plumbing with my brother-in-law and I just remember just working a lot of hours, being dirty and sweating. Which is fine. Some people are built for that and I wouldn’t knock that. I have a lot of friends and family that work very hard. But for me, that was probably the most difficult time. For about a year, I didn’t work and I had to just find jobs and ways to make ends meet. It was just a low time in my career. That’s happened a few times throughout my career. There’s been these lows that were very difficult. Even after Band of Brothers. I came out swinging and went right to a show called Queens Supreme with Oliver Platt and Robert Loggia. But after that, I didn’t work for a year and a half. I lived in Manhattan and I had really high expenses. Then, I had to learn how to budget and manage. That comes with the territory if you want to do this for a long time. It is a marathon. It’s not a race. You’re not trying to win this in a year or two.

What kept you from walking away?

The one thing that I have always known, what I’ve always hung my hat on, is that I believe that I’m good at what I do. As long as I just keep reinventing myself, from being a kid to a teenager to an adult who can now be a math teacher, a father, a policeman – all while staying sharp and focused and loving what I do. That’s what motivates me to keep going. There have been many times throughout the twenty-five years where, although I haven’t thought about quitting and following another path, I’ve slightly second guessed myself and thought, “How I’m going to survive?” But I always just hang my hat on that one hook and go, “Well, you’re good at what you’re doing, so just keep on going.”

Who was your closest ally?

I’ve had a few close allies. I’ll give you two. The one that’s always been there in this business for me, always checked in and given me great ideas and insight, and has driven me, is my father. My father’s always been behind me and pushed me to do more. Another one of my allies is AJ Buckley. We definitely push each other to do better and be better. To focus on the work. The only way you’re going to succeed for a long time is to be good at what you do. You’ve got to practice and continue to work on material, read scripts and collaborate with people who are hungry and putting out good material. AJ is one of them. We definitely push each other.

Outside of those two, the whole Band of Brothers family are tremendous allies to me. We’re still friends. We have our Bands of Brothers reunion once a year and we check up on each other and check each other. We make sure that everyone’s focused and taking care of each other and being there for each other’s family.


What were you doing before an audition that changed your life?

Before Hook, I was this thirteen-year-old kid on the street just playing some handball and cutting up in school, probably chasing girls. Before Diaries, it was pretty much the same thing. I was hanging out in the park and not focusing and not worrying about my studies. Before Band of Brothers, that’s when I was probably the most focused. I was taking the time to really read the book, work out, get educated on the history of it all. I wanted to physically and mentally just be there for that audition. And for Band of Brothers, I actually had made the decision to move out here [to Los Angeles], so I was actually out here auditioning. I was in the grind, in the mix around actors, working on stage on some stuff and in acting school. I was ready to go out swinging. I took it very seriously.

Jim-&-Robin-webWhat were the words that kept you going?

Something Robin said to the Lost Boys one time. He said to me on set, “Make sure that you spend less time in your dressing room and more time on the set learning the craft and learning the trade. Spend more time listening.” Those are words I’ve always remembered. Spend more time listening. And that’s what I did. I didn’t spend much time in my dressing room. I listened to what Robin said, which is basically “just pay attention.” That’s the honest truth. I’m not saying that because he’s not with us today. I say that because that’s the truth.

How do you think you have changed?

I’ve become more patient and more understanding with the process. I take rejection much better than I ever have. I understand it. I don’t wish any bad luck to anybody if someone wins the job over me. When you’re first starting out, it’s competitive. And it should always be competitive: that’s what’s going to make you better at what you do. I’ll always enjoy that part of it, but I’m definitely more understanding, more respectful and the rejection doesn’t get to me anymore at all.

What words do you have to inspire others?

In this business, you’ve got to be hungry. You’ve got to want to do this. Rely heavily on your instincts because they are going to be your best friend. If you struggle with false moments, and you don’t know how to rely on your instincts, it’s going to be a little bit of a ride for you. And I’m not sure that this business is for you.


Before the Scene with Ian Anthony Dale

by AJ Buckley on May 14, 2015


Ian Anthony Dale is a veteran actor from St. Paul, Minnesota. His recent work includes Hawaii Five-0, The Event, Tekken and Mortal Kombat: Rebirth. His next project is the Steven Bochco drama Murder in the First, where he’ll star as Jim Koto.

What made you want to become an actor?

I think in a way I’ve always been an actor and can remember as far back as high school playing the part of this quite confident guy when in fact I was actually just a painfully shy chubby kid. I guess you could say that long before I ever discovered acting, I was already trying to outwardly convey something very different from what was happening on the inside. I would always look enviously upon my friends, who were the most gregarious, wanting desperately to know what it felt like to be that free and uninhibited. It was right around that time that I discovered the theater. Here was this place where I could be whoever I wanted to be and no one would judge me. A place where I could confront my fears and start to define who I was and what turned me on. The theater provided a safe environment for me to ultimately discover the person I wanted to be both inside and out. I’m not sure what the hell I would be doing today had I not wandered into the theater all those years ago. Might just be the best dumb luck that’s ever happened to me.

What was your biggest fear?

When I first started working consistently, even though I was training and learning as much as I could at the time, I still felt like I was doing a considerable amount of “faking it” and feared that at any moment, I would be labeled as a talentless hack and become unhireable. I think that fear, and never wanting to disappoint those who believe in me, has motivated me to work harder and place an emphasis on always trying to get better. Some people are just born with a God-given talent, while others have to work really hard at it. I’ve had to work really hard at it, but I believe that through hard work, anything is possible.

What was your lowest point?

I spent my first two years in LA working as a set builder. After saving a little bit of money, I hung up my tool belt and rededicated all my time to my acting pursuits. After booking a couple guest stars and a pilot, I was finally making just enough to live exclusively off of the money generated from acting. But before I knew it, that money had run dry and I was one charge away from being maxed out on all three of my credit cards. I needed a job, badly. And there was little room left in the world of construction for an actor/carpenter who hadn’t paid his union dues in over a year. I was desperate. A friend of mine told me of a new restaurant in Los Feliz called The Vermont that was hiring, so I swallowed my pride and went in for an interview. They were kind enough to offer me a job and my first shift was scheduled for a couple days later.

It made me remember my days as a waiter the summer before my senior year of college, working at two restaurants in Madison, Wisconsin. The first was at a mom and pop Italian restaurant called Portabella. The second was at the local Red Lobster. Yup, that’s right. I wore those short-sleeved button downs emblazoned with little colorful fish, and served cheddar bay biscuits and all-you-can-eat crab legs to eager bib-wearing patrons. I would always be the one waiter who conveniently disappeared whenever it was time for us to embarrass one of our customers (and ourselves) with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Needless to say, it wasn’t my favorite job, and at the end of that summer, I vowed never to work as a waiter ever again.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for people in the food and beverage service industry, I just didn’t love it myself. I remember feeling so defeated as I prepared to don an apron once again. Then the most amazing thing happened. Literally four hours before my shift was scheduled to begin, I get a call from my agent telling me that I booked a Disney film and would be on a plane to New Orleans in twenty-four hours. Amazing how quickly your luck can change in this business.


What kept you from walking away?

Before I left home and headed to LA in 2000 to pursue acting, my father told me, “Son, give it ten years.”  He somehow understood just how challenging it could be and knew how long it might take. He wanted me to be able to really give it my very best effort. It was some of the greatest advice he could’ve given me.  This helped me to learn patience, always take the time to prepare, never get ahead of myself, and develop a thick skin and become resilient. Too many people make the mistake of coming to town overly confident and end up dejected and discouraged when things don’t happen for them right away. With time on my side, I was able to take every small victory and trust that I was moving in the right direction. That ten-year benchmark came in 2010 while I was filming The Event for NBC. It’s now 2015 and I’m still here, still feeling extremely lucky to be part of this business and still loving what I do.

What did you walk away from?

I once walked away from an opportunity to work with JJ Abrams. It’s one of a few regrets I’ve had in my career. Back in 2004, I had the good fortune to get to choose between a pair of offers. One was for a guest star on Alias playing the bad guy of the week, and the other was for a potential recur on a short-lived UPM sitcom called Second Time Around playing a young father. I had just come off of playing a couple bad guys in a row and wanted to switch things up so I chose Second Time Around.  Well, Second Time Around got canned after one season and we all know what amazing success JJ has gone on to have in his career. Hey, you win some, you lose some. I’m hopeful I’ll get another opportunity to work with JJ someday.

There’s more!


BEFORE THE SCENE with Travis Aaron Wade

by Arthur Vandelay on November 14, 2014


Travis Aaron Wade is an actor from Los Angeles. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Wade’s career as an actor was taking off when he was cast in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, but he broke his nose on the set of The Fix with Robert Patrick the same year. Now after rebuilding his career from the ground up, Wade can next be seen in the CW’s long-running hit show Supernatural, The Forger with John Travolta and Christopher Plummer, and in Criminal Activities with John Travolta, Dan Stevens and Jackie Earle Haley.

What made you want to become an actor?

I was twenty-two and I had gotten out of the Marine Corps. I didn’t really know how to get back into the civilian world. I have the utmost respect for the Marine Corps, but what they have you training to do is inhumane and you have to react a certain way. They have to strip you of all of your emotions. When I got into the military, I didn’t expect those things to happen to me, and when they did, I kinda came out lost. I was in college studying and I was working. I was going through the motions. I was doing everything I was supposed to do, but I just felt null and void. My sister passed away giving birth to her second child. The funeral was very hard on a lot of us, but I was very cold and I didn’t have any emotion. I remember going to my mom and I said “I don’t feel, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” And she said, ‘What is it that makes you feel?” And the only time I can remember feeling was watching movies. She said, “Why don’t you work in the movie business?”

A friend who was an actress said, “Take an acting class and network. Meet some people in the business and maybe you can do some grip work.” Walking into acting class, the first people I saw were Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Jessica Biel, Claire Danes, Danny and Chris Masterson. These kids were not famous: they were just TV stars at the time. They were putting up this work on stage that was mind blowing. I was just in awe of what they did. At some point, the teacher said, “Stop auditing and get up there and do it.”

I finally tried to put up a scene with people watching. The minute I tried to perform, I had a nervous breakdown. I started crying. I just went blank. The next thing I know, I got a phone call from the teacher. She said, “You just left! You need to come back to class.” I said, “I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t suppose to cry in the scene. I just lost it and I had a nervous breakdown.” It was the first time I had cried and let all these emotions out that were suppressed for many years. She said, “The class was being audited by Judy Savage. She’s an agent. She wants to sign you.”

What was your biggest fear?

Being thirty-nine years old, not married, no children and wondering how I’m paying rent. The fear was where I’m at today. I’m kinda living it! With the success I had early on doing films like War of the Worlds and being closely connected to Jarhead, I didn’t think that I’d be where I’m at today: hoping that my next job comes. When acting does take over, you are in Vancouver shooting a television series, and it’s very difficult to do anything else. Then, that job is over. The fear is not living it. It’s where I’m at today. It’s not so scary now, because there is light at the end of the tunnel. That was the unknown. But, I’m here at this age and it’s not that bad. If you get into acting thinking it’s a five year or ten year gig, you’re gonna be sorely disappointed. It’s a lifelong journey.

There’s more!


Before the Scene: Devon Sawa

by AJ Buckley on September 8, 2014

2104480_big-web photo by Ben Mark Holzberg/CW

This article originally ran in the 2014 September/October issue of Scene Magazine.

Devon Sawa is a veteran actor from Vancouver, Canada. His feature film credits include Final Destination, Idle Hands, Casper, Little Giants and the Baton Rouge-shot actioner The Philly Kid. On television, he recently finished his role as Owen Elliot on Nikita. Sawa can next be seen starring in Punk’s Dead and The Exorcism of Molly Hartley.

What made you want to become an actor?
I was acting as a child. I was on stage and I really, really loved that, but for a different reason than now. When I first started on stage, it was just a way to channel my energy. Then as a young teenager at thirteen, fourteen years old, I started seeing movies like Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction, Scarface, Apocalypse Now, Dr. Strangelove. All these great films with these great actors and it’s something that I wanted to do. I just wanted to do what they were doing: the Pacinos, the De Niros and the Jack Nicholsons, the Dustin Hoffmans. It just appealed to me. I just wanted to do it.

What was your biggest fear?
I didn’t have a lot of fears. Not being able to perform well, maybe. I was quite fearless as a young man. I think that’s why I succeeded is because I was so fearless. I would go into a room, an audition or whatever, with no care in the world. I think that’s why I was able to be successful early: the lack of fear. Which has changed so much! If I could go back to the way I was as a young man, as a teenager, with no cares, no family, no rent, no nothing like that, and walk into some of the rooms with that feeling? I’m sure I would do a lot better in there! It’s crazy. I did that movie called Idle Hands and I had to audition for the studio. I walked into the studio and threw myself over a table and into a wall, using my hand like it was possessed. To think about doing that now in one of those rooms is ludicrous. It’s insane. There’s more!

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BEFORE THE SCENE with Richard Speight, Jr.

by AJ Buckley on August 7, 2014

173980938-webThis article originally ran in the March/April 2014 issue of Scene Magazine.

Richard Speight, Jr. is a veteran actor from Nashville, Tennessee. He is best known for his roles on the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers, on The CW’s Supernatural and as Deputy Bill Kohler on Jericho. He can next be seen alongside Danny Trejo and Lin Shaye in the film Mucho Dinero.

What made you want to be an actor?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to become an actor. When I was five, I started doing plays in Nashville, Tennessee, where I grew up. What I really fell for first was theatre. At the time, Nashville was a pretty small theatre community. It was a tight knit group. So, once you’re the nonspeaking five-year-old in a Greek tragedy, you might be the nonspeaking five-year-old in the next play. And I had two older sisters. They had dance class, then they went to acting class and I sat in the waiting room. Eventually I stopped sitting in the waiting room and decided that if I’m gonna be there for an hour, I might as well take the classes. And that really sent me down the road. I was just immersed in the world. I remember specifically deciding when I was fifteen that I wanted to do it for a living. Eventually, the dance class went away because I really wasn’t that good. But the acting stuck. I moved out to Southern California and I went to USC and majored in theatre.

What was your biggest fear?
I was afraid of failure. Returning home with nothing to show for my time in Los Angeles. That was my biggest fear. That was my biggest driving force, but that’s not gonna get you hired. I was always very hard on myself. I felt like I wasn’t working and I was a big loser. In a way, that gave me a good work ethic. I was just trying to figure out how to chip away at the giant wall that is the acting industry. I mean, it is the damnedest of professions! There are weirder ones, but there may not be trickier ones. There’s no right way to do it. It’s not like, “Oh, I wanna be a lawyer, so I’ll go to law school.” You can be an actor, and not even go to acting school. There’s no degree requirement. You could be forty or you could be four and make the same amount of money a year. So bizarre, so hard to navigate, so impossible to interpret. I feared everything! I feared failure. I feared using all my time trying to crack the code and never developing a personal life. Being broke. I always thought it was kinda hip to be a starving artist. I didn’t mind starving, I just wanted to be damn sure I was doing the artist part. There’s more!

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Before the Scene with Doug Ellin

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Before the Scene with John Bradley

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Before the Scene with Michael Rapaport

by AJ Buckley

Before the Scene is where we all start. In a small town with our families. In front of a mirror with our friends. The days spent sleeping on a couch. The nights working at a bar. Living with the unknown and surrounded by uncertainty. It’s about the times that define us. It’s about the darkness […]